Friends Events

Programme from January 2024

All Wednesday evening Friends’ Talks now take place in the Coach House at the Museum but will also be shared virtually using Zoom.

Monthly invitations to the talks, and much other Friends material, are sent by email. Please ensure your email address is up-to-date in the Friends’ database. If you are unsure, send an email to the Membership Secretary at .

If you are not a Friend and would like to hear the Talk, please consider becoming a Friend at the Become a Friend page on this website.

The Zoom ‘room’ will open at 7.15pm and talks will start at 7.30pm sharp and are expected to last 60-75 minutes or so. Please log in after 7.15pm and before 7.30pm.

Members of the Friends Group will receive email talk reminders 7 days before the talk. One day before the time of the talk, Friends will receive a second email containing the Zoom hyperlink for the talk. We look forward to seeing you.

Wednesday 3rd April
‘The Nicholsons – a Family of Painters and their connection to Woodstock.’
Speaker: Alice Foster
Local Art historian.

Wednesday 1st May
‘History of the Lord Lieutenancy’
Speaker: John Harwood D.L.

Wednesday 5th June
Friends’ Treasures: Recent Archaeological Acquisitions
Speaker: Angie Bolton

Curator of Archaeology, Oxfordshire Museums service

The Talk will be preceded by the AGM

Wednesday 3rd July
‘New Work on Old Places: Recent Work by the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire’
Speaker Simon Townley
County Editor, Victoria County History

August – no meeting

Wednesday September 4th
‘The History of the Foundling Hospital’
John Caldicott
Governor of the Foundling Hospital and a former pupil

We look forward to seeing you at our meetings in the Coach House or on ZOOM. Friends are sent a ZOOM invitation by email a few days before each Talk.
Visitors are welcome for a fee of £5, payable on the night or by registering for a Zoom link.
For further information email: .

Past talks

Wednesday 2nd December 2020, Friends’ Christmas lecture: Alice Foster : ‘1500 years of the Christmas Story in Art.’ (Repeated Wednesday 16th December).

Alice Foster is a widely-respected lecturer in the History of Art at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and at the Oxfordshire Museum. Her lecture will focus on Christian art-works drawn from stories of the Journey and Arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, as well as Christ’s Nativity. The art-works will range from glass mosaics in 6th century Ravenna through paintings in the Medieval and Renaissance periods to modern images of 21st century France and Spain. Truly, a visual feast.

The Speakers and Host encourage the audience to wear Paper Hats and enjoy Christmas Cheer during the talk!

The Journey of the Three Magi, 6th century glass mosaic, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.
The Journey of the Three Magi, James Tissot, 1894.

Wednesday 6th January 2021 lecture: Marie-Louise Kerr: ‘The Oxford Struggle to Develop Penicillin in World War II’ .

Marie-Louise Kerr lectures widely in Oxfordshire about local topics. Everyone associates Alexander Fleming with penicillin. But Fleming never went on to purify the substance or test it against bacterial infections in animals or humans. Those large and vitally important steps required the vision, graft and dedication of Howard Florey’s team in Oxford. Florey and Ernst Chain began work on penicillin in 1939. The automated process they came up with made use of bedpans, milk churns and baths all rigged together, yet it worked very well. Their work led to a substantial reduction in the Allied WW II death toll.

Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, Norman Heatley.

Wednesday 3rd February 2021 lecture: Melanie King: ‘Tea, Coffee and Chocolate: How we Fell in Love with Caffeine’ . (Bodleian Publishing, September 2015)

Tea, coffee and drinking chocolate were all imported to England for the first time in the middle of the seventeenth century. Strange tales and ‘fake news’ soon surrounded these exotic new beverages. Did you know that coffee was recommended as protection against the bubonic plague in the seventeenth century? Or that tea was believed to make men ‘unfit to do their business’ and blamed for women becoming unattractive? On the other hand, a cup of chocolate was supposed to have exactly the opposite effect on the drinker’s sex life and physical appearance.

The coffee house mob

Melanie King, a local author and social historian, will share some of the lesser known myths and legends about our nation’s favourite beverages

Wednesday 3rd March 2021 lecture: Ben Ford: ‘Archaeological highlights from excavations at Magdalen College and the Westgate Centre in Oxford’.

Ben Ford joined Oxford Archaeology in 1996, and currently serves as Senior Excavations Director. Ben will present the most interesting discoveries from the Medieval Friary found in excavations at the Westgate centre in Oxford, and the Medieval Street found in excavations at Magdalen College in Oxford.

Pilgrim Badge – found under Westgate – Murder of St Thomas a Becket.

Wednesday 7th April 2021 lecture: Simon Wenham: ‘Living the lexicon: James Murray and the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary’.

Sir James Murray Lexicographer

In 1879, James A. H. Murray estimated that the new dictionary would be finished in approximately ten years. Five years down the road, when he and his colleagues had only travelled from the letter ‘A’ to the word ‘Ant’, they realized it was time to reconsider their schedule. Simon Wenham tells us the story.

Wednesday 5th May 2021 lecture: Liz Woolley: ‘The Victorian and Edwardian development of East Oxford’ .

Liz Woolley is a local historian specialising in aspects of the history of Oxfordshire and Oxford. She is particularly interested in the city’s “town” (as opposed to “gown”) history.

Wednesday 2nd June 2021 lecture: Stephen Dawson, Oxford Preservation Trust: ‘Oxford is not a museum piece, it is a living thing’.

(The June virtual Talk will also include a brief 2019 – 2020 Friends’ AGM covering committee members ins and outs, and financial and membership status.)

Wednesday 7th July 2021 lecture: Antonia Keaney, Social historian at Blenheim Palace, ‘The Ladies of Blenheim Palace – Lust and Laudanum – Sarah Churchill and her successors’.

Beginning with Sarah Churchill, the indomitable First Duchess and continuing through the centuries with the adventures of some of her successors, this talk redresses the balance as it looks at the achievement of some of the women and discusses the thwarted talents and potential of others.

No August lecture.

Wednesday 1st September 2021 lecture: Dr. Graeme Whitehall: ‘In India’s Image: Strange tales from the Chiltern Hills – the story of the Maharajah’s Well at Stoke Row’.

The well, the adjacent cottage and adjoining orchard together form a Charitable Trust endowed in 1863 by His Highness Ishree, Maharajah of Benares, as a mark of his attachment to England and of his friendship with Mr. Edward Anderdon Reade of Ipsden.

Maharajah’s Well, Stoke Row, Oxfordshire.

Mr. Reade lived and worked in India for 34 years and was Lieutenant Governor, North Western provinces, for a period including the mutiny in 1857. One of his many deeds there was to sink a well in 1831 to aid a local community in Azimurgh.

In gratitude, the Maharajah determined in 1866 that he would provide Stoke Row with a free and public well. The well is 368 feet deep (greater than the height of Nelson’s Column in the UK). The well provided 600-700 gallons a day until 1939. The well was completely restored in 1979 and 1983. Dr. Graeme Whitehall will tell us the full story.

Email for visitors’ invitations or call the Host at 01993 813108.

Wednesday 6th October 2021 lecture: Angie Bolton: Curator of Archaeology: ‘Rich Pickings in the Oxfordshire Museum Services Archaeology Collection: From the Palaeolithic to the late Medieval’.

Angie Bolton started her archaeological career as a field archaeologist in Wiltshire and Dorset but jumped at the opportunity to be one of the first Finds Liaison Officers for what was, in 1997, the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities pilot scheme (PAS). Based in the West Midlands Angie stayed with the Scheme for the following 22 years becoming the Scheme’s Senior Finds Liaison Officer. After identifying, recording and researching over 22,000 archaeological artefacts for the PAS, Angie took the opportunity to become the Curator of Archaeology for Oxfordshire Museums Service, starting in December 2019.

Oxfordshire is rich in archaeology. From early stone circles, to bronze age hill forts, to Roman villas and roads, to Saxon and Viking weapons, this fertile county watered by the Thames and its tributaries has been populated. Angie will take us through our Museum’s collection with highlights such as the Didcot Mirror and the Anglo-Saxon West Hanney Brooch.

Wednesday 3rd November 2021 lecture: Howard Robinson’ A History of Worcester Cathedral and some of its unusual Patrons’.

Worcester Cathedral, Worcester

The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin, of Worcester is situated looking over the River Severn and is famous for its Norman crypt, unique Chapter House, its unusual, transitional Gothic bays, its fine woodwork and its ‘exquisite’ central tower, which is of particularly fine proportions. The early building construction dates from between 1084 and 1134.

Patrons across the ages include Wulfstan, King John who worshipped here, Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s older brother and husband of Katherine of Aragon, the Duke of Hamilton, Edward Elgar and the Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Kennedy, also known as ‘Woodbine Willy’.

Woodbine Willy

Click below to hear a recording of the Talk (e-mail for a passcode):

Wednesday 1st December 2021 lecture: Alice Foster: ‘In Memoriam: War in Art and Literature’.

John Northcote Nash CBE RA_ 11 April 1893 – 23 ‘Over the Top’

Throughout the early years of the First World War, the British Government did not support an official war artist scheme. The public acclaim that Eric Kennington received when his painting The Kensingtons at Laventie was first exhibited in London in April 1916 prompted Charles Masterman, head of the British War Propaganda Bureau to appoint Muirhead Bone as Britain’s first official war artist in May 1916. Alice Foster will take us through a short selection of the major artists artists and art-works which followed.

Wednesday 5th January 2022 lecture: David Juler: ‘Museum of Oxford: Recent changes, Acquisitions and Attractions’.

Oxford celebrities

Wednesday 1st February 2022 lecture: Professor Malcolm Airs OBE: ‘The Settlement and History of Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire’.

Wednesday 2nd March 2022 lecture: ‘Dr. Jack Ogden: The Black Prince’s Ruby – Investigation of the Legend’.

The 170-carat red spinel which is set in the Imperial State Crown in Britain’s Crown Jewels is known as the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ and is one of Britain’s best-known gems. It has been popularly associated with Edward the Prince of Wales the ‘Black Prince’—who lived in the 1300s. An oft-repeated legend links the gem back to its presentation to the Prince in Spain in 1367 and tells of how Henry V wore it on his crown at the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415. But how much, if any, of the legend can be verified? And when was this legend first recorded? 

This talk given by Dr. Jack Ogden looks back through Renaissance and Medieval sources to try to separate fact from fiction. It will question whether we can identify the gem among the confusingly large number of large spinels that reached royal treasuries in the later medieval times, and evaluate its supposed continuous history down through its various owners, including Pedro the Cruel in Spain and Elizabeth I in England.

Dr Jack Ogden is a British historian whose 45 years of research have focused on the history of gems and jewellery, a subject on which he has written extensively and lectured worldwide. He is Visiting Professor in Ancient Jewellery Materials and Technology at the School of Jewellery, Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, Birmingham City University.

Wednesday 6th April 2022 lecture
Prof Mike Parker Pearson FSAFSA ScotFBA, Professor of British Later Prehistory UCL: Recent investigations into the origins of Stonehenge

Professor Mike Parker Pearson is an archaeologist and expert on Stonehenge’s blue circle history in the Preseli mountains. Archaeologists have known for some time that the inner circle came from South Wales but didn’t realise until recently that it had been assembled for tens of thousands of years there as a stone circle before being moved on to Stonehenge to be reassembled.


Wednesday 4th May 2022 lecture
Dr. John Naylor, National Finds Advisor for Early Medieval and Later Coinage, Ashmolean Museum: The Viking Age – World of the Watlington Hoard

The Watlington hoard was discovered on private land by metal-detectorist James Mather in 2015. Comprising about 200 coins (some of them Discovered in 2015, the Watlington Hoard is the first major Viking-Age hoard from Oxfordshire. A hugely significant find of Scandinavian jewellery, silver ingots and over 200 coins, most of which rare issues of Alfred the Great of Wessex (871–99) and his contemporary Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874–79), this highly-illustrated talk explores the contents of the hoard in the broader context of the Viking-Age world. Dr John Naylor will be providing the Friends with the results of half a decade of research into the hoard, taking them on a whistle-stop tour of King Alfred and the Viking Great Army from the Baltic Sea to rural Oxfordshire.

(c) The Trustees of the British Museum

Wednesday 1st June 2022 lecture
Emile de Bruijn, Assistant National Curator, Decorative Arts, National Trust: The Taste for Chinese Wallpaper in the British Isles during the Long 18th Century

The taste for Chinese luxury goods became firmly established in Britain in the late seventeenth century. Products like porcelain and silk were appreciated not just for their material glamour and visual sophistication, but also through their association with the longevity and stability of Chinese civilisation. By 1750 the British taste for Chinese pictures to use as wall decoration prompted Chinese artisans to begin to produce pictorial wallpaper for the western market.

This talk will chart the development of the different types of Chinese export wallpaper during the second half of the 18th century, using examples from the historic houses in the care of the National Trust and from elsewhere. Emile de Bruijn will show how the Chinese producers used traditional motifs, materials and techniques while at the same time responding to European tastes. He will place Chinese wallpapers in the wider context of what we might now call ‘orientalism’, the creation and perpetuation of a hybrid decorative style fusing Asian and European elements.

Wednesday 6th July 2022 lecture
Dr. Simon Wenham (OLHA): A Crystal Vision of Victorian Britain – The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was one of the most ambitious and spectacular events ever staged in Britain. It showcased, on a grand scale, the sheer economic, technological and global might of the nation. The vast attraction, which captivated visitors from around the country (and beyond), provides a fascinating window in so many sides of Victorian life. This talk will explore what we know about this great spectacle and what it tells us about the nation as a whole.

Wednesday 7th September 2022
Amy Butler Greenfield: A Perfect Red – The History of Cochineal

Red has been a source of wealth and power from ancient times onward. But what is the perfect red? For centuries, many believed it to be cochineal, the source of nature’s most potent red dye. Sought after by kings and emperors, cochineal was part of Spain’s New World treasure. English, French, and Dutch pirates chased after it, and so did poets, painters, scientists, and spies.

Historian Amy Butler Greenfield, author of A Perfect Red, will share highlights from this colourful history. Encompassing the history of natural philosophy and science, of art and textiles, of engineering and empire, it’s a tale every bit as flamboyant as the colour itself.

Wednesday 5th October 2022
Jeremy Mainwaring-Burton (former equerry to the Queen Mother): The Queen Mother’s Jewels

Jeremy served as the Queen Mother’s equerry while in the army in the late 1970s. Being interested in stones and having a degree in geology he couldn’t help but notice the magnificent gems in the jewellery Her Majesty used to wear. Indeed, if he admired a certain piece, she would often take it off and give it to him to have a closer look. This inspired him to study gemmology and after leaving the army he qualified as a Fellow of the Gemmological Association. He then spent many years as a jewellery and precious stone dealer in London’s Hatton Garden. In this entertaining, fully illustrated talk Jeremy concentrates on pieces which have a story attached and are of gemmological and historic interest.

Wednesday 2nd November 2022
Christopher Joll (military historian): Spoils of War or Looting

An illustrated talk by Christopher Joll, based on his recently published book. The author takes a robust and controversial view of the contemporary issues surrounding the repatriation of the nation’s acquisitions. Surprisingly local examples include Bath’s missing Crimean War cannons, Hitler’s last desk in Dorchester, Napoleon’s dispatch case in Wilton.

The author highlights in detail a fascinating cross section of these spoils, how they came to be acquired and tells the tales of some of the extraordinary (and extraordinarily incompetent) men and women, now mostly forgotten, who had a hand in the rise and fall of the British Empire. Along the way the book debunks a significant number of myths, exposes a major fraud perpetrated on a leading London museum, reveals previously unknown spoils of war and casts light on some very dark corners of Britain’s military history.

Wednesday 7th December 2022
Alice Foster (Continuing Education, Oxford University): Feast and Festivities

As we enter the Festive period, Alice Foster traces the variety of merrymaking, banqueting, dances and music in a feast of colour.

From Greek Mosaics in the second century, through weddings in the Bible, Renaissance allegories of refinement and excess, sixteenth century peasant parties out of doors, eighteenth century harlequins, to the celebratory styles of twentieth century painters, the depiction of parties has always been popular in the history of Western Art.

Wednesday 11 January 2023
Dominic Hare, Blenheim Estates: The Dredging of Blenheim Lake

Wednesday 1 February 2023
Geoffrey Tyack, Kellogg College: The Historic Heart of Oxford University

Wednesday 1 March 2023
Elizabeth Semper O’Keefe – Archivist, Hereford Cathedral: Mappa Mundi

Wednesday 5 April 2023
Professor Ashley Jackson – Military Historian, Kings College, London: Oxford in World War II

A group of Polish airmen with Professor Peter O’Grady, an English tutor, outside the gates of Trinity College, 1942

From Dunkirk evacuees to intelligence-gathering and atom bomb research, Oxford had a distinctive Second World War experience. Focusing on the University though embracing the city and the surrounding countryside, this talk explores major themes in the author’s forthcoming book, Oxford’s War, to be published by the Bodleian Library.

Wednesday 3 May 2023
Carol Anderson – Formerly museum curator, OCC, social historian: The Ascott Martyrs

Wednesday 7 June 2023 (including AGM)
Edward Caswell – Finds Liaison Officer, OCC: Bronze Age Archaeology and Life

Bronze Cauldron from Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire.

Saturday 24 June 2023
Friends 40th Anniversary Garden Party

Wednesday 5 July 2023
Jemma Davey – Museum Services Manager, OCC: The Heritage Collections of Parliament

Former Heritage Lead for The Houses of Parliament and currently Oxfordshire Museum Service Manager, Jemma Davey will be revealing the rich heritage of Parliament’s collections and their famous associations.

Wednesday 4 October 2023
Gary Lock  MClfA, FSA, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, Oxford University: Becoming Roman in Oxfordshire –excavations at Marcham

The archaeological site at Marcham is remarkable in providing evidence for religious practices in both the Iron Age and Romano-British periods. This talk will discuss the 11 seasons of excavation there and subsequent analyses. The site was a focus for worshipping and ritual for a long period of time but how can we interpret the evidence to try and understand how these practices changed?

Wednesday 1 November 2023
Mark Lawrence, OCC History Centre Manager: Heritage Search: an exploration of Oxfordshire County Council’s new online catalogue and historic mapping platform

An overview of Heritage Search, outlining how OCC is using it to improve access to heritage collections, how local residents (or anyone with an interest in Oxfordshire) can use it to plan a visit to Oxfordshire History Centre, inspire a visit to The Oxfordshire Museum, use it to support their own online research, or simply explore the Oxfordshire local landscape through the new mapping platform.

Photo by Peter Seaward

Spring 2019 in the Museum Garden


Pembroke College Tour is still ‘booked’ but has been postponed for the third time!